Priorities for the legislature

Priorities for the legislature

June 2, 2014 by Eze Onyekpere

Time is running out and the tenure of elected officials in the Executive and Legislature will come to an end in the next couple of months. It is now time for stock taking, reviewing achievements against promises made at the beginning of the tenure and taking concrete steps to use the last quarter to increase the tempo of work and ensure that the legislature gets at least a pass mark. The theme should be about prioritisation. The average Nigerian is in dire need of a number of governmental services and most of these services have been on the agenda of government after government since 1999. With less than 12 months to go, we need to see the priorities of our officials in the legislature considering that they cannot do everything at the same time. Resources are limited and the demands are many. Therefore, as noted earlier, prioritisation becomes the watchword.

The members of the National Assembly should come up with a scale of preference that identifies the most critical bills that respond to the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians and ensure that they become laws before the expiration of their tenure. This will involve a concurrence of the Senate and the House of Representatives in designing the priorities so that the two chambers do not work at cross purposes. According to the Legislative Agenda of the House of Representatives: “Priority legislation for the Seventh Session will include the Petroleum Industry Bill, Electoral Reform, Constitution Amendment, Infrastructure reforms (Power, Transportation), Education reforms, Agriculture and land reforms, job creation initiatives, (the National Directorate of Employment Act will be amended to address the problem of Youth unemployment), Housing, including mortgage reforms, youth and social development, gender empowerment. Our legislative priorities will include legal and justice sector reforms”. Yes, there are so many pending bills but we need to concentrate on amendments to the constitution and get it out on good time. The constitution is the fundamental law of the land which sets the tone for all other laws. Some parts of it will be very critical to the 2015 elections and as such need to be concluded in good time for certainty in the laws and election.

The next is the Electoral Act. If it is going to be amended as there are various proposals for its amendment or even for the enactment of a new Electoral Act, this is the time. Political parties have already fixed dates for their national conventions and primaries and they need a framework to guide their activities and conduct. The idea of releasing the Electoral Act in the thick of politicking is outdated and does not promote credible elections. Allied to the Electoral Act is the need to curb impunity in the electoral process through the establishment of the Electoral Offences Tribunal. This has been long overdue and the National Assembly will be in dereliction of its duty if it fails to respond to the wishes of the majority of the population to clean up the electoral process.

There are bills so critical to the economic well being of Nigerians; and there is no bill of greater importance than the Petroleum Industry Bill. Like every other great piece of legislation, there are so many sections attracting likes and dislikes. Every reform has its opportunity cost. In the name of all that is good, the National Assembly should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. All the sections that attract reasonable levels of agreement or where we can do trade-offs should proceed to become law. Law making is a continuous exercise and we can represent other areas in the future. But the most important thing is that the journey to reform is commenced in earnest. The bill when it becomes law has the prospects of increasing revenue accruing to the Federation Account from oil and gas resources; pave the way for new refineries which will lead to local refining of petroleum products and stop the waste that is fuel importation. The contribution of the oil sector to job creation and the GDP will also increase. Its link with improvements to the electricity industry also makes the bill a candidate for expeditious consideration.

What has the National Assembly done to reform the land sector? Why did it insist on retaining the Land Use Act in the constitution during the amendment exercise? We need executive and legislative processes to increase the availability of housing as well as making it economically accessible to the majority of citizens. The National Housing Fund has been there since 1992 but has not made any reasonable impact. Urgent remedial steps need to be taken to increase its accumulation of funds and disbursal to citizens to acquire adequate housing. For road infrastructure, the National Assembly should consider the fine-tuning and passage of the bill establishing the National Road Fund to raise alternative non-budgetary sources of funding for public roads. It is clear that existing public funds cannot be enough for the quantum of infrastructure needed to pull Nigeria into modernity. In matters of development planning, the bill to make development planning compulsory at all tiers of government needs urgent consideration. Abandoned projects litter the landscape with its implications for waste of scarce resources. To complete existing projects before commencing new ones is also imperative. In the circumstances, planning is central to economic development, job creation and the improvement of the living conditions of the average Nigerian.

In matters of improving transparency and accountability in public finance management, the Auditor-General’s Bill should be considered a priority. We need a strengthened office of the Auditor-General of the Federation with sufficient human and material resources to engage in timely and responsive value for money audits and to be proactive enough to nip fiscal governance crimes in the bud. If there is one more struggle that the federal lawmakers need to engage the executive, it is for them to insist on the inauguration of the National Council on Public Procurement. The impunity displayed by a President who swore by the constitution to execute all laws enacted or deemed enacted by the National Assembly in the refusal to set up this Council is unprecedented. Where is the legal and justice sector reform agenda of the National Assembly? The bills promoting this agenda should also be on the priority list.

The bottom line is that the legislature at the end of its tenure should be able to have dispassionate observers say that they did their best within the circumstances of the resources available to them. The above list is not exhaustive but indicative of the kind of bills that Nigerians expect to be given priority by the National Assembly. Finally, all the activities of the National Assembly must lead to the promotion of the overall security and welfare of Nigerians which is the primary purpose of government.

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